Casanova finally gets his lady: A story of tarantula breeding
The lights are dimmed; Barry White is playing softly in the background as Casanova inches closer to Diana. He beats his legs to tell her he is interested. All while the entire Butterfly Pavilion Tarantula Breeding team is watching in anticipation in hopes of a successful breeding. In the last couple months the Butterfly Pavilion has created a Breeding program for the purpose of gained educational value for the in-house zookeepers and staff and our visitors as well as the conservation of wild animals. The Butterfly Pavilion zookeepers, Jaime Bain, Troy Miller, and Chad Haines begin the monumental task of breeding tarantulas by researching and creating a breeding protocol that outlines the specifics (the what, where, when and how of breeding).
The first tarantula breeding attempt took place in April with two Grammostola roseas that were not “working Rosies”. The female, Fifi, was set aside because she was a donated rose hair, but too big for the small hands of many of our guests. Casanova (our main player) was set aside because, well . . . he’s a boy and boy tarantulas can’t be Rosie. If it weren’t for their breeding they would have sat in the back room their entire lives just like pets. Unsure of the actual technique to get the two tarantulas interested in each other without hurting the other one, the zookeepers plopped Casanova in Fifi cage. Our first breeding attempt was unsuccessful of course. Nothing happened because they were both scared and unsure or unaware about the other one.
But the first attempt was not necessarily a bust; the breeding team reevaluated the females they had and decided on a new female that never made it into the final draft of the tarantula breeding protocol. The second attempt came with a new process by placing the new female “Diana” and Casanova a new enclosure with a removable wall allowed for them to be in the same enclosure but with their own space but most importantly be able to pick up hints that the other is nearby. Soon after placing both of them in their separate part of the enclosure Casanova made an enormous sperm web, and they paired up JUST like the textbooks said they would and breeding team was thrilled.
After the first successful breeding attempt the team begin creating other breeding pairs that include two Chacos “Marilyn” and “Joe”, rose hair couple named “Ike” and “Tina” and another Chaco pair named “Apollo” and “Daphne”. But it wasn’t until Diana (our first successful attempt) began to exhibit odd behaviors. Immediately she began eating everything she could sink her fangs into. After what must have been a pound of crickets and 4 weeks after her first encounter with Casanova she stopped eating. She also had an abdomen the size of a guinea pig. Because she was so big and had stopped eating there was no way of knowing that was going on. Is this a good sign? A bad sign? All we know from other tarantulas is that big belly + not eating = molting time. Then one day she went to work on a web. A HUGE web. It started like a hammock. Then became a large bowl, and eventually it was an enormous hollow ball of silk with our Diana inside doing who knows what. She stayed in there for a day and a half before she tore it all down and ate it and were able to see what she had done. She made an egg sac!
All the zookeepers and breeding team are very excited about Diana’s (and hopefully Marilyn’s) egg sac because of the gains it will provide The Butterfly Pavilion. If we have enough egg sacs and/or tarantula spiderlings we can use them, not only for sale – but also for trade. Already we’ve discovered that we can trade our spiderlings with hobbyists from around the country for animals we don’t have. Just last month we traded 4 of our Mexican blonde spiderlings for 7 Mumbasa Starburst Baboon spiderlings AND an adult male (who is now on display in the Crawl-A-See-Em’s Tarantula Tower). Even better, it provides us with new educational experiences! Probably the most important reason for our excitement is the aspect of conservation, which is what The Butterfly Pavilion is all about. Several dozen species of tarantulas are deemed “threatened” or “endangered” by CITES (the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) because of two major factors. The first being habitat destruction, but the second being exploitation of wild species for pet trade. Because most wild caught tarantulas are the females who stay still while the males are off wandering around – the populations can’t be maintained and in certain areas a few days of catching burrowing tarantulas can completely remove the species from the area. Active and successful breeding programs, like the one we have started off well are attempts at safe-guarding wild tarantulas and the entire Butterfly Pavilion team is especially proud to be pioneering this little known hobby into a genuine conservation strategy.
Be sure to check back for more information about our new exhibit opening September 4 or visit our website for ways to help us out at the Butterfly Pavilion.
Posted by Chad Haines
Zookeeper, Conservationist, Spider Pimp.